It is not surprising to be ‘ova-whelmed’ this time of year.
I am not just talking about the economic and social flowering that happens when spring brings more daylight, higher temperatures and the upswing in our seasonal economy. It is eggs that come to mind.
Easter starts this egg-stra special time with the consumption and coloring of those oval orbs. Laying hens start producing in earnest, and quiche and egg salad are favorite after-equinox edibles.
Margaret Thatcher knew that “It may be the cock that crows, but it is the hen that lays the eggs.” Beyond domestic hens, eggs are emerging all over. Wild migratory birds have returned to meet their mate and ovulate.
Early layers include blackbirds, robins, thrushes, mourning doves and some types of owls, including great horned and barn. And climate change might be causing birds to lay their eggs even earlier.
According to research by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and British ornithologists, some species are producing eggs more than a week earlier that they had in 1960. Robins are one example, as are tree swallows that now lay nine days earlier than they did 40 years ago. This is of concern because the insects that these birds depend upon for food have not yet emerged in numbers necessary for nutrition.
The study of eggs is called oology and concerns itself with the anatomy and physiology of the ovum. The diversity of sizes, shapes and colors are truly egg-straordinary!
On the large end of the scale is the ostrich egg. At almost three and a half pounds, or approximately the size of a medium cantaloupe, it is the reigning super-sized champ of the living egg layers. Only extinct dinosaurs can claim larger eggs, with one species boasting basketball-sized ova. The bee hummingbird egg is splendidly small, only .02 ounces, or the size of a petite pea. It would take 4,700 of these eggs to fit in one ostrich egg.
Those giant ostrich eggs are also hard to open since they are quite thick. At 1/8 inch thickness, they are able to withstand the weight of the 300-pound bird that sits on them. It makes sense that the larger the bird the thicker the shell.
Number of eggs laid also varies with species. At one end of the spectrum is the condor that drops only one egg. Alternately, the grey partridge boasts 17 in a clutch. The record goes to a single bobwhite quail that laid 28 eggs in one clutch. That is eggs-emplary!
Shape up or ship out describes the eggs of some cliff-dwelling birds. Always on the edge, they produce conical eggs that are less likely to roll off of their perilous perch. Hole nesters’ eggs are, not surprisingly, spherical. The oval shape of some birds has little to do with their external environment and everything to do with what goes on within. The shape results from being forced through the oviduct. The rounded end is called the aerus, while the pointed end, called the taglion, results from that squeezing.
The variations in color can be egg-streme. White is the default and results from calcium present in the shell. Other pigments produce different colors and patterns. The pigment biliverdin and its zinc chilate cause blue-green colors and photoporyphyrin produces reds and browns. Combinations of colors and shades create uniquely patterned and well-camouflaged eggs.
C.S. Lewis had a wonderful eye for the symbolic or metaphoric uses of eggs. By looking at them in a new way, he invited us to think of ourselves in a new way. “It may be hard,” he wrote, “for an egg to turn into a bird; it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.”
Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown.